Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
Te Rau Herenga O Aotearoa

Michelle Anderson: The Power of Choice - Problems with a Female Dominated Profession

Michelle Anderson presents her paper to the 2011 LIANZA conference on the problems experienced by a predominantly female profession.

Librarianship has traditionally been a female dominated profession. What has changed in the last 30 or so years has been the pattern of work that female librarians have engaged in. Changes in social attitudes, legislation and better childcare options have given women the power of choice – the ability to choose whether to combine work with motherhood, an option not available a number of years ago.

However in female dominated professions such as librarianship, this has profound implications for the nature of work for example opening hours; management; leadership and career options. All are affected by the move to a workforce dominated by part time positions and time out of the workforce. In Tauranga City Libraries for example, 90% of the staff are female (against a national average of 83%). Only 36% of the staff are full time (working over 36.5 hours per week), and of the staff who have gone on parental leave over the last 10 years, only 20% have returned to work full time.

Yet this is something rarely talked about among librarians. People management courses rarely discuss the unique circumstances faced by managers of a largely part time workforce. Leadership seminars delivered specifically to librarians highlight the problems with an older workforce, in particular concerns with leadership succession. However they do not seem to discuss one of the biggest contributors to the problem – that many librarians in their 30s and 40s are working part time, and thus not in team leader/management positions to gain experience for succession.

This presentation will feature the results of interviews from library staff through-out the Bay of Plenty, discussing the concerns, problems and possible solutions to this change in working patterns. Interviewees will include women combining work with motherhood, both part and full time, and managers. Comparisons will be made with other professions also discussing the implications of a female workforce using the power of change to ask for flexible hours.

The conclusion reached is that we can not, nor would want to, go back to women leaving the workforce for full time motherhood. However we need to address many of the problems raised by an increasingly part time, older female workforce. Solutions such as specific training for managers and provisions for a career path and study for female staff with primary aged children.

This is the thesis that isn’t – the research and theory for a thesis that can’t be done because the author works full time and has two primary aged children (one with special needs). This family combination and full time work leaves little time for further study. Nonetheless, qualitative research has been done and may one day be part of a further graduate qualification.

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